Water, Ritual, and Prosperity at the Classical Capital of Bagan, Myanmar (11th to 14th Centuries CE)

by Pyiet Phyo Kyaw & Gyles Iannone

Water management in Ancient Bagan, with interesting parallels with archaelogical findings at Kbal Spean, Phnom Kulen.

Vishnu Kbalspean Iannone

Publication: Archaeological Exploration of the Tuyin- Thetso “Water Mountain” and the Nat Yekan Sacred Water Tank, SPAFA Journal, SEAMO-SPAFA, DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.26721/spafajournal.v3i0.600

Published: November 14th, 2018

Authors: Pyiet Phyo Kyaw & Gyles Iannone

Pages: 35

Languages : English, Burmese

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Water management in ancient civilizations included symbolical rituals of purification. The authors focus on the Nat Yekan sacred water tank in the Bagan area, and trace interesting parallels with similar Shivaist water reservoirs known in Kbal Spean, Kulen Hills area northeast of Angkor.

They assert that said reservoir "may have been intended to symbolically purify this water, enhancing its fertility prior to its flowing downslope, into the city’s peri-urban zone. Indeed, we believe that Nat Yekan’s iconographic elements served a similar purpose as the imagery found in association with the intricately carved river beds along the Stung Kbal Spean River (...) Here, water was made to flow over and around a series of Shaivite symbols (see Boulbet 1979; Chevance 2005; Feneley et al. 2016; Hendrickson 2011; Jacques and Dumont 1999; Tan 2014), many of which – such as carved linga – are clearly tied to notions of fertility. These symbolically charged water management nodes, and the extensive water storage and redistribution system of which they were part, celebrated the Angkor king’s role as guarantor of prosperity for the Khmer kingdom (Tawa 2001:141). Similar Hindu iconography is also associated with the river bed at the Sahasralinga pilgrimage site on the Shalmala River, in the Indian state of Karnataka."

Full list of authors: Gyles Iannone, Pyiet Phyo Kyaw, Scott Macrae (Adjunct Professor, Trent University, Peterborough, Canada), Nyein Chan Soe (Assistant Lecturer, Yadanabon University, Mandalay, Myanmar), Saw Tun Lin (Assistant Lecturer, University of Yangon, Myanmar), Kong F. Cheong (Graduate Student, American University, Washington DC, USA).

Photo: Vishnu resting on Ananta, Kbal Spean reservoir (by Gyles Iannone)

Tags: Bagan, Myanmar, Kulen Mountain, Kbal Spean, water management, Indian influences

About the Authors


Pyiet Phyo Kyaw

Pyiet Phyo Kyaw is a Professor of Archaelogy at University of Mandalay, Mandaly, Myanmar. He has conducted numerous researches on the Bagan site and the Bronze Age in Burma.

Gyles Iannone

Gyles Iannone

Gyles Iannone is an anthropologist and a Fellow Researcher with Trent University Archaelogical Research Centre (Canada).

He specializes in Early State Formations and Urbanism (especially in the tropics), Settlement Archaeology, Resilience Theory, The Archaeology of Climate Change, Natural Disasters, Human Impact on Ancient Environments, and Collapse, Mesoamerica (especially Maya), South and Southeast Asia (especially Myanmar). He is currently involved in the 'Integrated History of Residential Patterning, Agricultural Practices, and Water Management at Bagan (IRAW@Bagan) Sub-Project'.